Title: Calling Elvis: Conversations with Some of Music’s Greatest: A Personal History
Author: Shantanu Datta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020
Links: Speaking Tiger
Englishman in India
The story goes that the first time Sting was in Bombay as the frontman of The Police, sometime in the early ’80s, he took on the cops. After a few men in uniform started to hassle a young crowd, trying to pin down those who were exhaling a particularly strong hue into the breezy night, Sting screamed into the microphone: ‘This is The Police telling the Bombay Police to f*** off.’
If the authenticity of that quote couldn’t be verified, blame it on the air that night. But any band that could fuse reggae, rock and standout bass riffs and come up with an album titled Zenyatta Mondatta was capable of anything.
Much later, in 1988, yoga and ‘causes’ got to him and he was in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Chapman, singing Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up for Amnesty International. I was there, having scaled the 10-feet steel mesh wall to get on the ground from our seats in the stands (Rs 300) to be closer to the mammoth stage that had been erected. The JN stadium gig was one of twenty concerts held across the world over six weeks to raise awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 40th anniversary and the work of Amnesty. It was sponsored in part by Reebok Foundation and presented in India by The Times of India. And with a line-up such as that, who could resist a trip to Delhi.
Peter Gabriel sang Biko, his eulogy to anti-apartheid activist Steve who died in police custody, and Games Without Frontiers, a critique about belligerent nationalism, with stage lights on cranes that seemed to follow him obsessively. Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen played everything, from Dancing in the Dark, The River, I’m On Fire and of course Born in the USA, his set running into more than two hours and bringing the curtains down at 3 a.m. on what was the largest-ever conglomeration of rock stars on a single night in India.
‘It’s nice to be back in India,’ screamed Sting and over 50,000 of us screamed back. Springsteen joined him in his rendition of Every Breath You Take that he once described as a ‘cool, seductive song about the ill-effects of being possessed by someone you love.’ He opened his set with If You Love Somebody, the antithesis of Every Breath… celebrating the very essence of love, which is, as the song goes, Free, free, set them free. If you love somebody set them free.